Perhaps in a few weeks from now, if the Mets are in postseason contention, R.A. Dickey will look back on yesterday's muggy afternoon and remember the crossroad he and his teammates faced. And how they were able to stop a downward spiral to resurrect a wilting season.
Twelve hours after losing in heartbreaking fashion to St. Louis, the Mets took the rubber game of the three-game series, 4-0, behind the 35-year-old knuckleballer. Pitching on three days' rest, he allowed four hits and two walks in a season-high 8 1/3 innings. Ike Davis hit a three-run homer to back Dickey (7-4, 2.32 ERA).
"This may be a game that you could point back to at the end of the season and say, 'That was one of the turning points,' " said Dickey, who recorded his first win since June 23 a day after the Mets came back from a six-run deficit to tie it before losing in 13 innings. "Because the propensity is to pout about it and to mope about it and to be back here in 12 hours. You can say a lot of things about the 2010 Mets, but you can't ever say we don't play hard."
Even without his best knuckleball, Dickey was able to keep the Cardinals off-balance. Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday each went 0-for-4. Dickey - who had gone 0-3 in his previous five starts despite a 1.89 ERA in that span - stretched his scoreless streak to a career-best 17 innings.
Dickey said he knew early on that he didn't have his "swing-and-miss" knuckleball, but he adjusted by changing speeds and mixing pitches.
"They didn't know that I didn't have my best knuckleball, and I wasn't going to let them know," he said. "But I knew it and I knew how to pitch with it."
The pitch looked pretty good to the guy catching it. "His knuckleball was great," said Josh Thole, his catcher with Triple-A Buffalo. "And any time you see it that good, he has a chance to go nine."
"R.A. has come out of nowhere," Jerry Manuel said, "and what the baseball people have said is, 'If you get a knuckleballer and he has a hot hand, ride it.' And his hand has been hot ever since he's been here."
The Mets jumped on St. Louis starter Blake Hawksworth (4-7) in the third when Jose Reyes doubled, Angel Pagan reached on a bunt single and Davis crushed the first pitch - an 83-mph changeup - over the centerfield wall, just to the right of the Home Run Apple. The Mets made it 4-0 in the fifth when Pagan tripled and scored on Carlos Beltran's single.
Dickey called the hip injury he suffered Sunday - when he stumbled off the Dodger Stadium mound with none out in the sixth and was removed by Manuel two outs later, upsetting the pitcher - a non-issue.
Thursday, the crowd of 40,087 booed Manuel when he lifted Dickey (118 pitches, 73 for strikes) with one out in the ninth after he gave up a single and a walk. But the conversation between the pitcher and manager was a lot different this time.
"I was so thankful he gave me a chance to go back out there," Dickey said. "I was sad a little bit about not getting it done in the ninth. At the same time, we're starting to learn each other. It definitely was a more pleasant conversation."
Francisco Rodriguez recorded his 22nd save in 27 opportunities, getting Pujols to fly out to centerfield and striking out Holliday looking.